Who would have thought a story in LEO’s A&E Issue on etiquette for theater and dance performances would be controversial?
The story by longtime arts writer Elizabeth Kramer, “How to make sure others enjoy theater, dance,” made points including: “Audience members are often sitting and looking forward with their brains set for a sensory experience. So, don’t ruin it with rude behavior. Think and act before and during your theater-going experience.”
“Invisible you. Being at the theater is about the performance. It is not about you. Take your place and leave your seat only if absolutely necessary. And if you are wearing a hat, take it off so anyone behind you can see. … I don’t always dress up like people did then for the theater. Some do; some don’t. For operas, people like to put on the Ritz. For one matinee a few years ago, all I remember is the smell of an area of the balcony. Pee-ewee. … Think before you spray, as well. That overwhelming perfume or cologne — especially in the close space of theater seating — can overwhelm the olfactory senses and distract as well. Remember, many people have allergies. … Put away your noisemaking devices. I hear this phrase said before nearly each performance at Actors Theatre of Louisville. … You are not the star. Don’t sing with the production.”
Seems fair enough.
But, although the story was not about Actors Theatre of Louisville specifically, its spokesperson told LEO it had concerns with the piece and accompanying photo: “We are expanding our sensory friendly and relaxed performance programing for that show in particular [“Dracula”], and there are concerns that the conversation about audience etiquette runs counter to those more inclusive opportunities coming up.”
Actors then wrote about this in its blog “not as a rebuttal but rather as an invitation to share some of the work happening over here.”Below is that piece. At the end is the artistic producer’s explanation after a Facebook poster voiced confusion with the blog. And, finally, Kramer wrote an addendum.
You’re Welcome Here
By Team Actors on August 09, 2019
“Actors Theatre has long been telling audiences what not to do in our spaces. The same has been true at theatres across the country; as theatremakers, we prioritized quiet over reaction, and restriction over invitation. We developed and, both implicitly and explicitly, enforced behavioral expectations that prohibited the type of deep engagement we want to have with our audiences.
And now, just as collectively, theatremakers throughout the United States are reevaluating; we’re questioning these longheld expectations and dismantling them one by one. Around Actors Theatre, we’ve been particularly inspired by playwright Dominique Morisseau’s Rules of Engagement: “guidelines to help every theatregoer — not just ‘theatre people’ — feel at home in the theatre.”
At Actors Theatre, we began with investment in sensory-friendly and relaxed performances where the audience environment is more accommodating. Through developing that programming, we identified avenues to making all performances more inclusive. Together, we continue to push this work forward.
If you’ve been to Actors Theatre recently, you may have noticed new language in our curtain speeches, a summary of our organizational Core Values:
We seek to build a judgment-free and inclusive environment where stories, artists and audiences connect: a space welcoming of all people. You’re welcome here, as you are. With the spirit of invitation, we’d like to offer an update to “traditional” theatregoer etiquette.
Come as you are.
Feel free to engage authentically. Share in the experience collectively and respectfully.
Don’t be invisible. If you’re in the audience, the artists onstage want to know you’re there. They want to feel your connection to the play.
Give each other space and understanding. Know that people vocalize and move for many reasons and that we all react to and experience plays differently.
There is no dress code.
And in the words of Dominique Morisseau: “This is community. Let’s go.”
We hope to see you at the theatre soon.
—Emily Tarquin, Artistic Producer”
Replying to a comment on Actors’ Facebook page:
“Thanks … for reading and responding to this piece. It is certainly not meant to be instructional in nature and definitely meant to be more of an invitation. We recognize that many people already feel comfortable and welcome in our space and we hope they will continue to feel that way and also join us in welcoming those who do not. As our work diversifies and our values prioritize inclusivity, our practices have to expand as well. While we cannot know what every person needs to have a good experience, we can work to let people know that they are welcome here, as they are. Thank you for your feedback and please feel free to dm me if you would like to talk more.”
Exceptions To The Rules:
An Addendum To Leo’s Primer On Audience Etiquette
By Elizabeth Kramer
Last week’s issue offered advice on how to respect fellow audience members and artists who work hard to create dance and theater performances. Many move us to laugh, applaud and sometimes gasp. These moments come in between the time we stop to observe and take in what unfolds before us.
Sometimes artists call on us to join in. Improvisational acting troupes mine ideas through audience participation. Sing-a-long performances of musicals have become a thing in some venues. Several musicals invite audience participation — “Hair” and several numbers of “Jersey Boys.”
One performance has proven to be among the most moving — lifting audiences’ voices and their bodies out of their seats worldwide — the 1960 dance “Revelations” by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Its music, including “Wade in the Water” and “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham,” often has audience members singing along, standing and swaying. But they always focus on this legendary work and the dancers who give it new life with every performance.
When those opportunities to participate come — artists and venues let you know. They open their doors and their arms. By the nature of their art and their attitudes, they give you cues. •